Will a court pay attention?

April 13, 2021

If I had harbored even an iota of doubt about Junior Chandler’s innocence, it would’ve been vaporized by the podcast episode below.

Most dramatically, the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic’s meticulously assembled “Impossibility Exhibit” demonstrates that Junior was nowhere near the scene of his imaginary crimes….

But is the court paying attention?


Today’s random selection from the Little Rascals Day Care archives….


Tortured by timidity in Texas

Dan, left, and Fran Keller


Dan, left, and Fran Keller

March 13, 2016

“Fran and Dan Keller have been released from a Texas prison after 21 years, yet still have little freedom of movement or circumstance, or even quality of life. Their 1992 conviction on multiple counts of ‘sexual assault of a minor’ – in the now notorious Fran’s Day Care case – has effectively been overturned by a 2015 Court of Criminal Appeals ruling ‘granting relief’ to the Kellers on a single question of retracted medical testimony. But the ruling was not accompanied by actual exoneration from the allegedly heinous crimes.

“Only a single appeals court judge – Cheryl Johnson – was willing to admit no crime had in fact occurred. ‘This was a witch hunt from the beginning,’ wrote Johnson, in her opinion concurring with the opaque ruling of the full court. Johnson would have granted relief on all the Kellers’ claims, and would have acknowledged that the entire prosecution had been an egregious folly.

“The limited ruling, while welcome in itself, left the Kellers in a legal limbo – permanently accused but not cleared…. required to somehow further demonstrate their innocence – of crimes that never happened….”

– From “Learning From Our Mistakes” by Michael King in the Austin Chronicle (March 11) (cached)

So who thwarts the hapless Kellers? Yes, yet another prosecutor who sets the bar for exoneration stratospherically high. Although District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg (here’s why her name rings a bell) supported their release, she now finds herself unable to “find a path to innocence” without the deal-sealing exculpation of DNA evidence. Those darn imaginary criminals sure do clean up after themselves….


A bit of doubt creeps into claims of child abuse

Dec. 26, 2012

By 1993 the moral panic was at last retreating from therapists’ offices, courtrooms and the media. That timing gives “Ritual Abuse: What It Is, Why It Happens, and How to Help” a peculiar place in its genre.

Although the pseudonymous “Margaret Smith” is a supposed “survivor and researcher of ritual abuse,” her advocacy lacks the blind certitude of a “Nursery Crimes: Sexual Abuse in Day Care” (1988) or a “Don’t Make Me Go Back, Mommy: A Child’s Book about Satanic Ritual Abuse” (1990).

“If there is even a small chance that one ritual abuse claim is true,” Smith begins, “we owe it to all potential victims to explore the problem of ritual abuse in greater depth.” Such unexpected tentativeness!  Is she doubting even her own claim of victimhood? Or did an editor at HarperSanFrancisco awaken just in time to insist on at least a façade of rationality?

Unfortunately, the rest of the book alternates Smith’s first-person accounts of her ritual-abuse-caused “multiple personality disorder” with a predictable rollout of junk statistics. Could anyone be surprised, for instance, that among “adult survivors of ritual abuse,” fully 84 percent reported having witnessed “mutilation or killing of animals/humans”?

Who killed the ritual abuse day care panic?

120409ThreeApril 9, 2012

“Where do epidemics go when they die?…. Have all the sadistic pedophiles closed down their day-care centers?”

– From “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)” by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

I asked Mary de Young, author of “The Day Care Ritual Abuse Moral Panic,” whether this epidemic might have gasped its last in Edenton as a result of “Innocence Lost.”

“Ofra Bikel certainly pounded a nail in its coffin,” De Young said. “Her excellent work on the Little Rascals case appeared after the last day care ritual abuse case was prosecuted, but she created a reason to be profoundly skeptical of all the cases that came before.

“I would give a lot of credit to Debbie Nathan (Village Voice) and Dorothy Rabinowitz (Wall Street Journal) for bringing an end to this craziness, but to be honest I think the moral panic really collapsed under its own weight – i.e., it was impossible to sustain these allegations in the absence of evidence, as well as to sustain the suspended disbelief that was required.”

The long goodbye: ‘See you in a million years’

Feb. 8, 2012

The indignities endured by Little Rascals defendants were unending and sometimes bizarre. A University of Georgia professor enlisted by the defense to conduct a penile plethysmograph reported that Bob Kelly was aroused by videotapes and slides of only normal heterosexual activity. But the prosecution’s expert countered that not every sex offender would be caught by the test.

Fearful of a clear-thinking jury, prosecutors never missed an opportunity for gratuitous vilification. Nancy Lamb histrionically held up gold-framed portraits of 12 children as she denounced Kelly as “an evil, evil man.” H.P. Williams Jr. saw “no reason he should be restored to the community at any time.”

And how’s this for a melodramatic climax, as reported by the Associated Press:

“Some of Mr. Kelly’s victims, clutching dolls and teddy bears, sat in the front row of the spectators’ section as Judge D. Marsh McLelland… passed sentence (of 12 consecutive life terms). Later, as guards escorted Mr. Kelly out of the courtroom to a police car for the trip to a state prison in Raleigh, some of the children yelled at him, ‘I hate you!’… ‘See you in a million years!’ ”

Suppose you gave a lynch party, and nobody came?

July 18, 2012

“Law enforcement officials are teaming up with social services experts to investigate and more effectively prosecute child sexual abuse in North Carolina day-care facilities….

“State Bureau of Investigation Director Charles Dunn said… the goal is to train up to 300 individuals in the state’s largest cities.

“Under the protocol, agencies in counties would establish guidelines for interagency task forces. Each task force would include an investigative unit and a resource unit.

“The typical investigative unit would include a child protective services social worker, law enforcement officer, consultant from the state day-care licensing agency and an SBI agent.

“The resource unit might include medical personnel, SBI lab experts, mental health workers and representatives of the attorney general’s and local district attorney’s offices…

“The General Assembly (this year required) SBI notification within 24 hours of any report of sexual abuse in a day-care setting. ‘The Little Rascals case really just helped to focus the public’s and the legislature’s attention,’ ” Dunn said.

– From the Associated Press, July 21, 1992

I suppose this massive response by the state could be described as closing the barn door after the horse is out – except, of course, for the absence of a horse in the first place.

Two decades have passed since all that staff training, protocol drafting and attention focusing, but apparently the state’s interagency task forces are still waiting to be activated for the next day-care ritual abuse case.

Bill Hart used day-care moms as dating pool

111202HartAug. 6, 2012

Let’s say you were a special deputy attorney general called in from Raleigh to help prosecute the Little Rascals case. Now imagine: What would be the most inappropriate, the most ethically questionable way you could possibly spend your spare time in Edenton? How about starting to date the mother of one of the alleged victims?

Yes, that’s exactly what Bill Hart chose to do. He and Patricia A. Kephart had been involved for months even before Bob Kelly’s trial began.

Readers of this blog won’t be surprised to learn that Hart denied any impropriety and blamed the defense for trying “to divert attention from the case.”

But Rich Rosen, professor of criminal procedure at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Law, told the News & Observer of Raleigh (Dec. 20, 1991) that “It certainly raises questions in my mind. A prosecutor is not supposed to have any personal involvement or interest in the case.”

One question raised in my own mind: Unlikely, yes, but what if Hart had experienced a pang of doubt about the validity of the prosecution’s case? Would he have been able to admit that to his girlfriend (much less to his fellow prosecutors)?

At the conclusion of the state’s case, prosecutors dropped charges related to Kephart’s daughter. Hart and Kephart later married.

Day-care panic had roots in incest movement

140523RushMay 23, 2014

“….The widespread belief that sexual abuse of children is endemic to society is a relatively new notion. In fact, it can be traced to a particular moment in history: April 17, 1971.

“On that day the New York Radical Feminists, a group that at its height boasted no more than 400 members, held a groundbreaking conference on rape. For two days, women held forth on a subject long considered taboo…. A speech given by Florence Rush (was) the highlight of the event.

“Rush was an unlikely star for such a gathering. A middle-aged social worker, who had never been raped, she outlined statistical studies suggesting that sexual abuse of children, including incest, was a more widespread problem than was generally recognized….

“Before Rush’s speech, feminists had given little thought to incest. Author Andrea Dworkin recalled that before the conference ‘we never had any idea how common it was.’ In the decades following Rush’s talk, feminists more than made up for their earlier unawareness, competing with each other in elevating the number of victims….

“Believe the women. Believe the children. These refrains became the mantra of the incest movement. While the women’s movement would be enormously successful in turning sexual abuse – including incest – into a major public issue, women, ironically, would become the chief victims of the hysteria it generated.

“The obsession with this supposedly rampant sexual abuse played out in two ways: ‘Believe the women’ became the repressed memory hysteria. ‘Believe the children’ turned into the day-care hysteria….”

– From “Sex, Lies, and Audiotapes” by Rael Jean Isaac in the Women’s Quarterly (summer 2001) text cache

The road to the moral panic that would sweep up innocent day-care providers from North Carolina to New Zealand was a long one. If Florence Rush’s 1971 speech was one milestone early on, then perhaps the still-contentious 1988 conference of the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation could be seen as the beginning of the end – although the allegations against the Edenton Seven weren’t yet even a gleam in a therapist’s eye….